• Madison Churchill

The importance of Kelp in the Salish Sea

Lush kelp forests weave their way through the Pacific Northwest coastal waters. Thick strands of green and red sway softly with the currents, creating a meditative ebb and flow. Growing up to a meter per day, they tower above the sea floor, providing food and shelter to a host of different organisms. Aside from the critical function played in the ecosystem, kelp is also a viable solution in combatting climate change.

Washington state has an estimated 600 species of seaweed – 22 of which are kelp. This is one of the most diverse kelp habitats on the planet, making Washington the perfect place to experiment with kelp farming. This November, the University of Washington hosted a conference about the potential benefits of kelp farming where they shared valuable research with our PNW Protectors team among many others in attendance.

We know that a significant portion of the world’s oxygen comes from the ocean, but research also shows that sea kelp is one of the most effective ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The kelp absorbs carbon dioxide and breaks it down, or “digests” it, effectively removing it from the environment without retaining any traces in the plant itself. This means it can then be repurposed for a whole host of other uses after its natural life cycle.

Traditionally, the Salish Peoples of Washington used kelp for food, tools, medicine, and culture. It has also been shown to provide incredible benefits for repairing soils that have been damaged by industrial agriculture such as nutrient depletion and damage from pesticides. It has also been shown that adding seaweed to livestock feed leads to a drastic reduction in methane production. Industrial animal agriculture causes about 40-50% of human-caused methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Feeding them small quantities of seaweed reduces up to 70% of that methane, which will prove to be a huge breakthrough in fighting climate change if properly utilized.

As we learn more about the astounding benefits kelp farming provides to the environment, we are beginning to explore the potential of starting these farms in Washington state. Our coastal ocean ecosystem is already the perfect blend of environmental factors for kelp production, as seen by our existing native variety. This means that minimal maintenance is required to create flourishing kelp gardens. It would grow in harmony with the natural ecosystem, providing benefit to many Salish Sea creatures like orcas, seals, otters, fishes, crabs, and microorganisms, while absorbing massive amounts of CO2. At the end of its life, it could be sold as food or compost for local farms, or used in livestock feed. This creates a closed circle in the production cycle, making it essentially self-sustaining.

At PNW Protectors we are always looking for innovative ways to help the natural ecosystem. By mimicking the natural species growth, we can work with the environment instead of against it, creating space for drastic positive impact in the least invasive way possible. We are still in the planning phase, but we have high hopes for the potential of kelp farming in the Pacific Northwest.